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Predicting risk and planning mitigation against regional impact from climate change on populations of Arctic char (Salvelinus alpines)

  • Full or part time
    Prof AR Hoelzel
    Dr Erin McClymont
    Dr M C Lucas
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 10, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Arctic char have a circumpolar distribution in high boreal, alpine and arctic habitats in the Northern Hemisphere. Many southern populations are stationary in freshwater habitats, but some especially in the north are anadromous (moving between marine and freshwater habitats). In many high latitude environments Arctic char is the only fish species found in freshwater lakes. There the lake may freeze almost to the bottom, and yet the fish survive through the winter. Some data suggest seasonality to feeding in these environments. The habitat is distinctive and they are well adapted to it, but with climate change all Arctic habitats are undergoing a period of transition and at risk. In the case of Arctic char, polar populations may need to become more like those living further south. The objective of this study is to better understand what those requirements and transitions will need to be, and to better understand how the impact on polar populations and the human communities that depend on them can be mitigated. Arctic char are an important resource and component of local cultural traditions for a range of Arctic communities. For example, Tagish fishermen used moose antlers to drill through ice to access char, and various Inuit people use nets set below ice and jigs for capture. Several cultures in the high Arctic travel to set up char fishing camps in September through November and stay for a month, fishing for char. While seal meat is the staple today for many of these communities, char remains an important resource, especially in the summer months.

In this study the student will integrate data from fatty acid analyses (led by co-supervisor Dr. McClymont in Geography) with ecological (Dr. Lucas) and genetic analyses supervised from the home department of Biosciences. The key objective will be to compare high Arctic populations from Svalbard with lower latitude populations in the UK to better understand the adaptive differences and potential for adaptation or acclimation to a changing climate in the Arctic environment. Arctic char are polymorphic within and among lakes, forming different ecotype morphs suited to foraging in different habitats. This includes anadromous vs stationary life histories, and various morphologies ranging from the small ‘dwarf’ form to a very much larger cannibalistic form. An annotated genome has recently been developed, and in the context of ecological differences, this will allow for the assessment of key differences among southern and Arctic populations by comparison of candidate genes, potentially important as adaptation markers. Data on feeding ecology, habitat usage, morphotypic variation and life history strategies will help determine the evolutionary response to environmental change and facilitate the interpretation of genetic results. A 3-month secondment will be undertaken in an Arctic research institution in Norway (Akvaplan-niva AS, Tromsø, Norway) where there is extensive research on the biology and management of char. Impact will be investigated in the context of the cultural and economic consequences for indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

Funding Notes

For further details please contact Rus Hoelzel (). This project would be funded by the Durham Arctic CDT (View Website). Application materials should include a cv, academic records and at least two letters of reference sent to



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